Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Traditional-style crime novels place an emphasis on the ‘whodunit’ aspect of a crime (sometimes on the ‘howdunit’). And very often, they strike a balance, so that they are neither too violent and brutal, nor too ‘lightweight’ and unrealistic. Let’s take a look at an example of that sort of novel today, and turn the spotlight on Jill McGown’s A Perfect Match, the first in her Lloyd and Hill series.
DI David Lloyd and DS Judy Hill of Stansfield CID are alerted when the body of Julia Mitchell is discovered in Thorpe Wood near the town. She’s been strangled, and her clothes carefully removed. The police and medical examiner soon rule out rape or robbery, so the murder seems to be more personal.
The police try to trace the victim’s movements on the day of the murder, but almost immediately run into problems. For one thing, everyone they talk to indicates that Julia was last seen with Chris Wade. But Lloyd and Hill can’t interview him, because he’s gone missing. For another, several of the characters are not saying all that they know. So it takes quite a while to find out exactly what happened that night.
But what they can establish is that on the night of the murder, Julia was at the home of Martin and Elaine Short. Wade, who is Elaine’s brother, was there too. After an argument ensued, Julia decided to leave, and Wade insisted on taking her home. The next morning, her body was discovered. So it’s easy to see why Lloyd and Hill are so convinced at first that Wade is their man.
Things are more complex than that, though, as the police soon discover. For instance, there’s a complicated network of relationships to untangle. Julia was known to be the mistress of attorney Donald Mitchell. And Chris Wade was involved with Donald’s wife, Helen. There are other layers of complexity, too, and Lloyd and Hill have to slowly sort them out. That becomes even more important when, bit by bit, both come to believe that Chris Wade may not be the killer. In the end, the detectives find out who’s behind the murder, and that network plays an important role in what they learn.
This is a police procedural, so Lloyd and Hill find out the truth through police work, information from forensics and other reports, and a bit of luck. Since this book was published in 1983, readers also get the chance to see how police got information before the days of the Internet, mobile telephones, and computers.
One of the important ways in which Lloyd and Hill get to the truth is through interviews with the various people involved. This turns out to be important, because this is a traditional mystery. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a cast of suspects, each of whom has something to hide, and each of whom could have a motive. Many of the characters lie for one reason or another, and part of Lloyd and Hill’s job is to uncover what really happened on the night of the murder. So they have to use their interviews to the best advantage they can, since several characters aren’t being honest about where they were and what they were doing at the time Julia Mitchell was killed. It’s also worth noting that some of the characters are not particularly likeable.
There are clues, too, as the story goes on. So readers who enjoy ‘matching wits’ with the author will want to pay close attention. The clues are not always obvious, but they are there.
The story is told from different points of view (in third person). So we learn a bit about both Lloyd and Hill. Lloyd is not married; Hill is, although not happily. In the course of the novel they begin a relationship. Neither is really sure where it’s going, but they don’t let their personal circumstances obsess them. And readers who dislike a lot of romance in their crime fiction will be pleased to know that this isn’t a romance novel. It’s a crime novel in which the two protagonists are also involved. I don’t like to draw too many comparisons, as each series is unique. But I think readers who are familiar with the way Deborah Crombie handles the relationship between her Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James will see a bit of similarity here.
This is a low-key traditional mystery. There’s not a lot of violence, and the pace reflects the sort of story it is. Readers who prefer fast-paced thrillers will notice this. That said, though, there are some twists and turns as we (and the police) learn who’s telling the truth, who’s lying, and about what. It’s also worth noting that this is not a long book. My edition worked out to 186 pages.
Readers who like all of the proverbial loose ends tied up will appreciate the fact that in this novel, we learn who is guilty and why. And I can say without spoiling the story that the police find out, too, and the handcuffs duly come out. That doesn’t necessarily make everything all right again, but we do get the sense that life will go on. Certainly it will for David Lloyd and Judy Hill.
Another element in this story is the occasional wit. For example, one person of interest is Paul Sklodowski. At first, the police think he may have had something to do with it, as his story about why he was in the area doesn’t really ring true. Then it turns out he’s trying to protect Diane McPherson, whom he was with at the time of the murder. They were using the field for some privacy, and it’s both funny and rueful as we hear their stories.
‘‘Don’t get her into trouble,’’ Paul pleaded.
‘You’re more likely to do that than I am,’ Lloyd said.’
The evidence from this young couple doesn’t solve the case, but it does add information. And it’s a light touch.
A Perfect Match is a low-key traditional mystery with a bit of wit that takes place in a small, but not tiny town. It introduces two police detectives who each bring their own skills to the case, and it sets the scene for later novels in the series. But what’s your view? Have you read A Perfect Match? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 15 March/Tuesday 16 March – Dissolution – C.J. Sansom
Monday 22 March/Tuesday 23 March – Shinju – Laura Joh Rowland
Monday 19 March/Tuesday 30 March – The Hot Rock – Donald Westlake